Summer has arrived here on California’s mid peninsular coast, and with it promises of warm days and balmy afternoons. This years Fourth of July weekend was no exception. Old glory barely waved in a light breeze, the smaller birds chirped and twittered and a mated pair of Eurasian doves sheltered in the shade of a mighty oak that hangs over the backyard, no doubt discussing plans for their future family. A picture perfect day for a barbecue with friends and family, plenty of hot dogs, hamburgers and beer – a classic celebration of the land of the free. We live in a great country by any standards, unless you are addicted to cyber chat rooms and subscribe to the ruthless taunting of those with nothing better to do than talk smack about the United States. But I digress. This post is dedicated the pursuit of all things barbecue and the thoughtful prose it evokes.
We are a nation of nations, a melting pot as it were – and I love the opportunity to learn another cultures food and adapt it to the barbecue. My Quincho, an Argentine concoction, is testament to that. So when a good Spanish friend of my wife’s offered to teach me how to make Paella on the grill, needless to say – I was all in. I immediately ran off to my nearest “Sur La Table” cooking equipment mecca and procured the largest Paella pan I could find. She was a beauty, measuring about 2 feet across in diameter. Such a pan will feed about sixteen people of average to hearty appetite.
Conchita – our Spanish ringer – showed up ready for action and my mind was a sponge, awaiting the secrets of such a time honored dish. She began by inspecting the grill. She was very satisfied it would do the job (in fact she was rather impressed, which made me right proud). I surveyed her ingredients and took careful notes, expecting exotic combinations and unfamiliar spices. I constructed a list as I inventoried them. This was to be a seafood paella. There are many other types, and I will likely whip up my own version in the near future as I get better at it. The measurements below are the best I could surmise based on the way Conchita made it. They are close enough. Do take note that these measurements are for a big pan as described above, if yours is smaller adjust accordingly.
- 3 Crabs – cooked and cracked
- 24 Scallops
- 44 Prawns
- 20 Squid Cleaned and the body portion sliced into rings. For some reason she didn’t use the tentacles. I would.
- 20 Small Clams, washed and cleaned of any sand and grit
- 2 Red Peppers, chopped
- 2 Small Onions, chopped
- 2 Heads Garlic, minced – Mama Mia!
- 2 small cans of green peas (with the juices)
- About a Teaspoon of Saffron Threads
- An entire box of Uncle Ben’s Rice. Whoa. Wait – Uncle Ben’s? I was expecting Bomba or Arborio – She swears by this stuff because it doesn’t stick. And trust me – she is right. Use twice as much hot water as rice, reserving one cup.
- 10 Oz jar of martini olives
- Half a bottle of Chardonay
- Corn Oil – Not Olive Oil – she says it’s too strong.
First you must build your fire. This simple act trips up more people than you would think, myself included. Why? Because the size of the fire (or amount of lit coals) is going to set the tone for your cook. Heat + Food = Cooking, right? Well likewise, too much heat + food = burning. Building a fire is a manly pursuit and as in all things manly bigger is better, so we endeavor to build a great pyre. Here’s where a woman’s touch teaches us to calm down. Pay attention as this will serve you well in other barbecues to come. Your fire should be big enough to bring these ingredients to a simmer, but since they will simmer for an hour, not so big as to scorch those on the bottom. Enough Said. Once the coals have ashed over, spread them in a circle about the size of your pan.
Place the pan over the fire and coat the bottom with oil. When the oil is hot add your onions and bell peppers. They should sizzle and begin to cook. When translucent and
soft, add your garlic. Keep things moving here because we don’t want the garlic to burn. After about a minute, add your squid. Cook this for about 3 minutes.
Add the crab and stir again. Sprinkle the rice evenly over the top of the crab. Do not stir. Take the cup of hot water you reserved and stir the saffron into it. Let this sit for about 5 minutes. Add the infused Saffron water to the rest of the water and add the water to your pan over the rice. Do Not Stir.
Now add the shrimp by placing them one at a time around the pan. Do Not Stir. Add the scallops the same way. Do Not Stir. Add the clams and the peas. Do not Stir.
We wait for the rice to begin to absorb the simmering liquid. After about 30 minutes you should be able to see the rice again. Loosely cover the pan with aluminum foil. After about 10 minutes add the wine and replace the foil. After 20 minutes, remove the foil and place the Olives around the pan one at a time. The rice should be plump and thoroughly cooked and the clams should all be opened. Discard any closed ones.
Like America, paella is a great melting pot of cultures, tastes and textures with a common theme (rice/freedom) bringing it all together. And like America, you are bound to have a few closed clams – but why focus on them when the dish is so wonderful? Happy Fourth of July to everyone. Cheers.